The process to obtain a permit to mine heavy minerals near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge just got more complicated for Twin Pines Minerals.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff’s request to analyze potential risks to mining near the world-famous swamp.
During a press conference Monday to discuss the decision, Ossoff said a visit last year to the Okefenokee convinced him to oppose mining near the swamp. After the visit, Ossoff began the push to reinstate protections that had been removed from federal oversight under the Trump administration, leaving the final decision up to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The permits submitted by Twin Pines include the surface mining application, mining use plan, groundwater withdrawal application, soil abatement plan, and the subsurface continuity of humane-bearing sands in the aquifer document.
One of the other complaints cited by Ossoff was tribal leaders from the Moscogee Creek nation were never consulted.
Now, Twin Pines will have to start over from the beginning of the jurisdictional process.
Alabama-based Twin Pines is proposing to mine on a 577-acre tract in Charlton County near the southeast border of the swamp.
Heavy minerals including titanium are mined by digging a pit, sifting the minerals from the sandy soil and backfilling the pit with the sifted soil as crews dig through the mining site. Scientists believed the stratified layers of soil are what keeps water in the basin-like swamp and backfilling the mixed layers could allow water to leak out of the swamp, lowering water levels.
Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals, said his company intends to move forward with its application.
“It is worth noting that for the most part, the regulations, if enacted, will only restore permitting requirements we were already addressing before the Trump ruling was issued,” he said. “Considering the recent news that China controls 90% of the world’s rare earth minerals essential for high technology products and the military’s communications, satellite, weapons and defense systems, it is more important than ever to secure those minerals from domestic sources and our project in Charlton County can do just that.”
Ingle said his company can safely mine titanium from the site “without harming the Okefenokee or cultural resources in any way.”
“All dragline mining will occur at elevations above the highest water level of the swamp and approximately 3 miles from the nearest boundary of the refuge,” he said. “More than just an altruistic desire to assure the swamp and cultural resources are safeguarded, it is just good business, and we wouldn’t be investing millions of dollars in the permitting process if we weren’t certain of our abilities to achieve those objectives.”